Monday, December 19, 2016

2016 ramblings

Typically, my newsletter offering is an article on one particular topic. I’ve covered a lot of topics through my tenure and have your newsletter editor and board to thank for the opportunity. Of the many outreaches I make and member needs that I address or forward, my newsletter input garners the most member feedback! Full disclosure: I have low standards. When I am told, “I see your mug everywhere,” I take that as a compliment and add that to the “I like your newsletter input” column. While that might be a stretch, it is the column that is always full. I have gotten requests from members about topics, and have written about them, so if you have any topic you would like covered, please let me know and I will do my best. This particular issue is more of a rambling: some small topics that I have come across that might not warrant full-page attention.

Researchers continue to deliver valuable information on turf types that can make a positive impact on our courses and environment. “Tolerant” and “resistant” are words that make pathologists worth their weight in gold, and get the immediate attention of superintendents. If sociologists could study how to make club members and golfers more tolerant and less resistant, we might have a good thing going! Superintendents in the region dealt with a very difficult 2016 turf season, and I take my hats off to you all, but overwhelmingly I am told that it was communication that got them through. The tools that were used may have been different, but the result was nearly always the same: the less water being used on the turf, the more communication it took to manage the important decision makers at the facility. Congratulations to those that did both well.

All politics are local. That is not an earth-shattering statement. But 2016 brought more and more political pressure, aimed at golf specifically, around the region. Water has been in the limelight, but nutrients, pollinators, and pesticide issues have been prevalent as well. Superintendents have worked to educate on each item across many fronts. Bob Searle in Maine, Ken Lallier, CGCS and Kevin Komer, CGCS in Vermont, Greg Cormier, CGCS and Peter Rappoccio, CGCS in Massachusetts, Jim Ritorto in Rhode Island, Peter Gorman and Scott Ramsay, CGCS in Connecticut and many more superintendents and valued vendors have worked hard to push back against regulations and legislation that would make our day-to-day jobs more difficult. Times have changed, and with that, so has our role in the golf industry. We all need to be vigilant and advocate in support of our role as environmental stewards. For all of you that have gotten involved at any level, with efforts big or small, thank you.

Finally, I want to add this last note. It was something that was not in my original article but having heard this from another superintendent, I thought it relevant. Superintendents and many facilities graciously offer our peers in the profession the opportunity to play golf for free. This is a privilege, not a right; no facility is forced to do so. Our industry operates using a code of ethics. The GCSAA has them as part of membership and you attest to having read them when you join. Many local chapters maintain a code of ethics standard as well. Having to contact the host superintendent to alert them that you will be on the property is part of these codes. This does not put the host superintendent into a position to alter his daily routines, change management practices, or ensure that every putt a colleague makes go in. What it does do is offer the simple courtesy of alerting your host that you will be there. I have never heard that an outreach to a colleague has led to rose pedals being placed at the visitor’s feet upon making their way to the first tee. What I have heard many times is the extreme frustration of a host in finding out that a colleague has been on property without notifying the host. Please consider this when making plans to visit another golf course. While the upside may be small, the downside could may make an impact on how you are viewed by your peers. Golf is a sport of integrity; ensure you keep yours intact.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A rewarding internship program

It was a pleasure to join the Baltusrol Director of Grounds and GCSAA past president Mark Kuhns, CGCS, along with his staff, Upper Course superintendent James Devaney and Lower Course (Championship Course) superintendent Dan Kilpatrick for the 2016 PGA Championship. I found my eight days to be extremely busy, fun, and very rewarding. While I hope my tasks were helpful to the grounds leaders and staff, I would like to explain more about the people involved than the challenges of preparation on the course.

Kuhns is not unlike many long time superintendents in this industry: He has touched the lives of many professionals through the years and developed a turf family tree of sorts. Most of those on the grounds team for the 2016 PGA Championship were members of that family. While stops at Laurel Valley, Oakmont, and Baltusrol may lead you to believe building this tree has come easy, I can say with certainty that has not been the case.

Kuhns and his senior staff work hard to populate a very rewarding internship program. They must engage universities and students, try to offer great benefits and opportunities, and deliver an experience that will enable those who take part to be successful in the future, just like many of you strive to do. Kuhns is a Penn State graduate (and very proud of it). It is a relationship he utilizes. The GCSA of New Jersey has a tremendous relationship with Rutgers, which he uses to recruit. Kuhns is an active member of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association (CGSA), so he strives to engage turf students from across Canada to join him for the summer. None of this happens without lots of time and effort. Believe it or not, he continually struggles to fill his intern staff year after year.

How might his program differ? Kuhns makes continuing education a priority for his interns. They attend the annual Rutgers field day, building on their turf school knowledge. Kuhns engages local affiliates to provide beneficial information to his interns on site, adding to those educational offerings. He and the staff cross train the interns on as many on-course duties as possible, broadening their hands-on knowledge base as much as possible.

Offering opportunities like these to your intern may take resources that are not available to you, and that is understandable. Housing, travel expenses, and the loss of a valued staff member for critical times during the summer season might be beyond your facilities ability. Are you focusing on what you can offer? Could you engage your affiliates for educational opportunities at your course? Is it possible for you to take your intern to a UMass or UConn field day? What about an opportunity to introduce your intern to peers at a chapter meeting or other networking event? Can you utilize the successes of your past interns to engage potential new ones? Do you keep in touch with past interns and assist them in furthering their careers, if applicable?

Kuhns success in building an internship program paid dividends at the 2016 PGA Championship. GCSAA documented some of the stories of this success:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Plan to compost your leaves this fall

And there you have it: the season has changed. Gone are the 90-degree days and 80-percent humidity, and now come the days with moderate temperature and cool and frosty nights. Of the many seasons in New England, this one seems to be the favorite of the golf course superintendent. With mud season, black fly season and syringe season in the past, now begins leaf season and the challenges it brings. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering your leaf management strategies:

What do you do with the leaves you harvest off of the golf course? Leaf litter can be added to other course debris to make an excellent compost material. Shredded leaves with untreated grass clippings make an excellent start, with many other options that may be available.

The sustainability session at the 2016 Golf Industry Show was an excellent opportunity for superintendents to trade ideas, one of which was composting. (Side note: Utilizing waste from the food and beverage and on-course containers was an initiative undertaken by one presenter). While actively managing a compost pile will significantly decrease the time needed to achieve a nutrient rich product that can be utilized on your property, even an unmanaged process will eventually be beneficial. Think of the yards of leaves you manage to maintain playability returning to the course as deep rich compost! Site selection and protection of water resources also play a big role in mindful composting. It would be a great project for an ambitious assistant or incoming intern. For more about composting, visit the UMass Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment resources page on Organic Waste Management.

While composting may not work within your leaf management strategy, one item to be aware of when blowing leaves to tree lines or property edges is the environment that this litter establishes. Often researched as a wonderful overwintering site for annual bluegrass weevils, it may also be contributing to an increase in tick populations. Last year, Joellen Lampman, School and Turfgrass IPM Extension Support Specialist with the New York State IPM program, reached out to golf courses in her region to study the effects of different leaf management practices and the relationship on the tick population. An unseasonably warm winter in 2015-2016 led to an explosion in the tick population this year, and hopefully some additional research will assist golf courses to develop strategies to manage both leaves and ticks successfully! If you think your leaf litter strategy might be creating increased spring tick population issues, Lampman included some information on testing your site for ticks in her Community IPM fact sheet. Keeping ourselves, staff and golfers safe is always a priority and easy.

Whether blowing, mowing, or picking them up, leaves create an additional labor constraint on our budgets and inconvenience to our golfers. By developing a sustainable composting practice, the property could benefit greatly from the reuse of an otherwise undesirable byproduct. With research, we can also gain a better understanding of the implications of our management strategies on non-desirable species. Best of luck with leaf season, and as we have all come to learn here in New England, keep your eyes on the cars around you when on the roads. Leaf peepers make very poor drivers!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Work-life balance: yesterday and today

Hopefully at this time of year you are enjoying some much needed time off, followed by a stretch of workload that falls well below the typical summer stress line. The nature of this profession allows us to build a seasonal quality of life that often leads to a matching imbalance. Experienced superintendents and industry workers have developed a network of supporters and a system of routines to deal with the nature of the job. How did you accomplish those tasks? If you are like me when I was new to the industry, you worked hard for a very long time to adjust, and those closest to you, friends and family, needed to adjust with you to strike that balance. What about your new employees, who is assisting them to find a balance? What steps are being taken to at your facility to help employees be as successful outside of the workplace as they are within?

There are often similar steps taken to acclimate new employees into the team at your facility. Training and encouragement bolstered by proper compensation and benefits are basic tools to get the process moving. Recognition and empowerment by you and staff can increase the likelihood of a new employee succeeding as part of a team within the workplace. What steps are taken to help with the work-life balance beyond the out-of-bounds stakes?

I continue to hear of younger, talented professionals moving out of the industry to different careers. While lack of upward job mobility may well be a reason, don’t overlook the difficulty of work-life balance. Traits of the younger generations do little to mirror the needs and historical workload of our industry. How would you describe the hours you put in at the course when you began? Would all day-every day be accurate? Time and flexibility are a priority to the employees entering our industry. As much as we value our personal time and family needs, the younger generations entering the workforce most likely will have to have it. Flexibility may well be the key to making that happen. Working sun-up to sun-down is more indicative of a superintendent’s passion than a profession. Developing the golf industry as a passion may not happen in the first week, month or year. By then, the work-life balance may well be out of whack. Do you make it clear what the expectations are when they begin? Your recognition of their needs, and their understanding of your expectations should be on the table at the start. Can you be creative enough in scheduling for a promising young turf talent to thrive and attain that passion that drives us all?

Leadership and motivation are important tools of successful superintendents, and understanding generational traits of employees can assist with their use. Encouraging employees to be creative, empowering them to utilize their talents, and respecting them as people will go a long way towards their inclusion as a team member. Just knowing that what they value most could be the one thing that creates success for a new hire. While personal time might be the hardest item to provide, it may just end up being the most critical to your people.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Are you ready to save a life?

I had just arrived at Long Meadow Golf Club for the GCSA of New England board meeting in advance of the nine-hole golf and membership meeting.  I was in a great mood as the facility holds a special place in my past.  I had caddied in the Lowell (MA) City Tournament for a family friend in my youth (about a thousand years ago), and grew up not too far away in Dracut, Massachusetts.  Oh, and it wasn’t far from home.

The buzzing noise going off in the lounge area when I walked in was, well, alarming!  As the door closes behind me, a staff member scurries past on his way onto the golf course carrying an automated external defibrillators (AED).  Another staff member can be heard telling someone on the phone “we have a man down.”  Minutes later, an ambulance can be seen following a utility vehicle onto the property.

I was to learn later that it was a well-liked, long time member who went into cardiac arrest on the first hole.  He was in “touch-and-go” condition when the ambulance finally left. 

My thoughts were with him the entire day, and still are as I write this article, but I am not looking to dwell on the seriousness of the member’s health issue.  What I do want to elaborate on are a few key items that may have saved his life:

The alarm:  There was no doubt about what was happening.  The alarm was indeed to alert staff that there was an emergency taking place. 

The plan: One of the Long Meadow board members joined our group after the meeting portion had concluded and we had a chance to chat.  It was then that I learned that Long Meadow does indeed have a plan for medical emergencies, and that the staff have had drills in the recent past. 

The AED: It was my understanding through comments of those with knowledge of the situation, that the AED was utilized.  What an asset.

I would really like this situation to raise awareness to you and your facilities.  What would happen if this were to occur at your course?  Is there a plan in place?  Are there personnel on staff that are trained in CPR and the operation of an AED?  Is there an AED on the property?  If the clubhouse is an answer to any of the above then please answer another question; who is most likely to encounter a member or patron under medical duress while playing golf, the clubhouse staff or grounds staff?  Are you trained to handle such a situation, is your assistant?  Is the cost of training a question or issue?  If so, what is the value your facility places on the safety of your membership or customers, because you or someone on your staff may very well be the one to respond to a golfer in need of medical assistance first!

In GCSA of New England's October issue of The Newsletter, I opined about the opportunity to utilize the staff to plan for success in the 2016 season.  Perhaps within that SCOR plan development under “opportunities” CPR/AED training and safety plan procedures should be added. 

I am truly hopeful that Long Meadow’s alarm, plan and AED provided one of their members a fighting chance today.  My thoughts and prayers are with him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

There's a lot to like at Trafalgar

I always enjoy visiting members at their facilities.  The passion they utilize on the job always shows through.  I always learn a lot and often get the opportunity to share that information with other members, in newsletters or on my blog. 

One such visit occurred recently and offered some insights into one member’s efforts to grow the game.  15-year GCSAA member, Mark Prieur, at Trafalgar Golf Club in Milton, Ontario, has undertaken several initiatives.  I learned quickly that my visit took place on Ladies Day.  Flag sticks were wrapped in pink VinylGuard with correlating cup liners.  This simple set-up is enjoyed by the members, and was inexpensive to accomplish.

Another area of the course has seen quite the buzz lately, too.  Prieur has had past experience with beekeeping and has resurrected the practice at Trafalgar.  While this is not unique to golf facilities, it was my first up-close experience with a hive.  The hive will help pollinate the clubs small vegetable garden and is located next to an adjoining farm.  Prieur explained that the hive should produce nearly 100 pounds of honey in the fall.

Growing the game long term begins with engaging children.  Prieur and the staff have developed a six-hole loop that is tailored perfectly for children.  The loop includes a “road hole” finish, at a grueling 29 yards long!  The loop utilizes unused space adjacent to the first tee. The pins are cut down to approximately five feet tall and sunk into cups into the middle of push-mowed greens.  Tees are marked using old rope stakes with hole yardage stenciled on the side. 

The space is packed on weekends, with member’s children and grandchildren utilizing the course.  The users need to be shorter than the flagsticks and often are slightly taller than the fescue areas that surround the fairways.  Maintenance takes very little time and labor, and the returns have been great!  Trafalgar now offers camps for children five years old and up, utilizing parents as caddies.  Offering the program to non-members has turned the small, once overlooked space into a revenue stream for the club.  Growing the game, and the bottom line! 

Feel free to reach out with questions. I can also connect you with Mark Prieur. 

If you have successful ideas or initiatives that others might enjoy, let me know and I will do my best to share.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Growing your staff this spring

With the two weeks of spring now out of the way, summer has practically set in.  This is the transition season that superintendents have waited for all winter. For those who came into the golf season in great shape, the course is set and standard practices are underway. For those less fortunate, the recovery process is in full swing, and often more aggressive cultivation and agronomic practices are dominating the job board.  No matter the spring outcome, this part of the season is dominated by stress.  How you handle the stress and pressures of your job will go a long way toward your success, and the success of your staff.

I have recently completed the three-day Applied Leadership Institute offered by the University of New Hampshire’s Professional Development and Training department.  I hope to include many of the topics that were covered in the program here on my blog from time to time.  I will not look to recreate leadership messages you may have heard at educational events, but more to give you items to consider at pertinent times of the season.

Spring time means staffing time and that can be stressful in itself.  Those returning from previous seasons are often relied on to pick up where they left off, with very little training.  Often, changes made in the off-season need to be discussed and put into action.  For some team members, change is looked at as positive and embraced, but not all staff will feel that way.  Will you get pushback?  Will they comply for a time, and then revert back to the old ways?  How will you handle this?  Communication can be used to engage those who are non-compliant, but it may come down to you as a leader making a decision to commit to the change, or to the non-compliant team member.  Will you be ready to choose?

How will your new employees fit into your team and facility plans?  You will tell them, and they will certainly learn what you expect of them.  But what will they expect of you?  Feel free to ask them, you might be surprised at what they tell you!  Proper training and support will be the key to their (and your) success.  Competitive wages are important, but studies often show that financial benefits are not always on the top of the list.  Think of what else might matter.  Job-life balance is often critical to success.  Does your new hire have a wife, family or even just a life outside of work?  These many areas of concern will dictate mood and effort.  Actively working with staff to balance these needs will help ensure team success.  These will be new eyes asking questions about some very standard practices.  Often we get set in our ways and new ideas can lead to improved processes.  Listen, encourage questions and reward creative thinking.  An eager employee is a terrible thing to waste!  Work to engage them with other staff members.  A new job can be intimidating enough when they do not know others around them well enough to socialize.  Your staff veterans will often help answer the questions new hires are too afraid to ask.  Empower them when they are ready to perform duties for you and the team.  Lastly, and above all, respect them through the learning process.  Not everything they are asked to do will be easy, and there will be mistakes along the way.  Show respect for them as a person, and they will respect you for it.

Please let me know if you found this helpful, or if there are other staff related items you thought should have been included.  I would really appreciate any feedback!